When somebody asks you to describe New Orleans, it's easier to tell them how the city makes you feel. There aren't many places in the world where that's the case, and that's mainly because the Crescent City has an infectious quality about it. The longer you stay, the more it becomes a part of you. It had been nearly two years since I was last in the Big Easy, and while some things have changed, it's still that old familiar friend.
If it's your first time going to the city (or your first time experiencing it off of Bourbon Street!), here are a few must-dos in the go-to neighborhoods:
St. Charles streetcar - take the vintage streetcar from the Central Business District up St. Charles Ave, thru the Garden District, and hop-off somewhere Uptown. The fare is a mere $1.25 (one-way). Just make sure you have the exact amount as they don't take credit cards or provide change. It's easy to get on and off, and there are multiple stops along the route.
Audubon Park - enjoy a walk around New Orleans' most scenic public park. It's filled with picturesque oak trees that you only get to see in the South. For a glimpse of college life, Tulane University is right across the way.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 - with its rich and intriguing history, New Orleans can be a bit spooky in certain areas. Visit this cemetery to pay your respects to the dead, and admire the aboveground tombs. Unlike some of the other cemeteries around the city, there is no entrance fee.
Where to eat + drink:
Commander's Palace - due to its aqua blue facade, you can't miss this culinary institution located in the heart of the Garden District. The Brennan-owned restaurant is one of the most iconic restaurants in the country - best known for its Creole cuisine. The James Beard award winner has also helped launched several chefs (Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme to name a couple) into stardom. You'll need to make a reservation well in advance, and be respectful of the dress code (jackets are encouraged for gentlemen). A must order: the turtle soup and any bottle of wine from their extensive + award winning list.
Jaques-Imo's - make sure you bring your appetite! They have all of your New Orleans' favorites like fried chicken, crawfish étouffée, and gumbo. Reservations are only taken for parties of five or more, so be prepared for a wait. It's worth every minute. And if it's a long wait, just pop into the bar next door which just so happens to be the next spot on this list...
Maple Leaf Bar - while you're waiting for Jaques-Imo's, pop into Maple Leaf Bar and grab a drink. There's a good chance you'll be treated to some live music, and if you happen to be there on a Tuesday, you can catch the Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.
Camellia Grill - I go for the pecan and banana cream pies. It's an old school diner serving up classic American dishes.
Columns Hotels - The Columns may be a hotel, but walk in and you'll feel like you've just stepped inside your own personal antebellum home. Sip your drink while on the front porch and watch the streetcars (and life) pass by. It's a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Cure - this has become quite a popular destination as it recently made it on to several best bar lists around the country. Their carefully curated cocktails and moody ambiance will make you want to stay all night long.
The National WWII Museum - it's one of the best museums I've been to, and does a great job of outlining the events of WWII into a perfectly organized timeline. Be sure to set aside a few hours for your visit. It's an emotional and impactful experience.
Where to eat + drink:
Emeril's New Orleans - Emeril Lagasse's flagship restaurant lives up to the hype. From bread service to after dinner drinks, and literally everything in between, it's all delicious. A must order: the barbequed shrimp appetizer. Tastes so good you'll slap yo mama!
Cochon - everything that comes out of this kitchen is divine. Meat dishes are their specialty, so try something like the Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins & pickled turnips or the fried alligator.
Cochon Butcher - right next door to Cochon is their more casual to-go spot. It's great for lunch and serves amazing sandwiches like the Cochon Muffaletta and BBQ Pork. The mac-n-cheese is also quite tasty.
The Sazerac Bar - located in the Roosevelt Hotel, The Sazerac Bar takes you back to the 1920's with its wood paneled bar, dim lighting, and decor. The cocktails are pricey, but flawlessly crafted. A must order: Ramos Gin Fizz.
Auction House Market - a food hall that is beautifully designed and has a variety of vendors to accommodate anyone's appetite. Just don't expect to find a lot of traditional Southern food. Ladies: the bathroom is totally Insta-worthy.
Willa Jean - they serve a variety of Southern food and their breakfast menu lists a whole section dedicated to just biscuits and toasts. They also make a delicious bourbon slushy.
Ace Hotel - the trendy hotel provides several venues that are worth checking out. Josephine Estelle offers delicious pastas and some traditional Southern cuisine dishes. Both the bars downstairs and on the rooftop have a buzz about them, and are perfect settings for socializing with friends or meeting new ones.
Loa Bar - another hotel bar, Loa offers a swanky ambiance in addition to superb drinks. The intimate bar is situated on the lobby floor in one of my favorite hotels in NOLA: International House.
Bourbon Street - yes, you need to walk down it once or twice and throw some beads from a balcony (or earn a pair!), but don't get stuck for too long in this tourist trap.
Frenchman Street - this is where the locals go to listen to live music and let loose. The small street behind the Quarter has several music clubs (most notably, d.b.a.) that play host to talented musicians.
Jackson Square - while it does attract crowds, it's still a picturesque place to walk around, peruse street art, and listen to live performers.
Royal Street - there are plenty of boutiques, galleries, and antique shops along my favorite street in the French Quarter.
Harrah's - try your luck in this casino that's adjacent to the Quarter. It can be a fun way to end the night.
Where to eat + drink:
Brennan's - this is the Brennan family's very first restaurant which is best known for brunch. Brennan's egg dishes are a pretty big deal, but this is where Bananas Foster was actually invented, so it's the indisputable star of the meal! The famous dessert is flambéed table-side, so have your camera ready. Each room is ornately decorated and they also have a beautiful courtyard. Reservations are highly recommended, and again, make sure to take a peek at the dress code.
Arnaud's French 75 - if $2 shots and sugary daiquiris aren't your thing, head here. Order the French 75 (hence the name) and enjoy the sights+sounds of this elegant bar.
Napoleon House - the building looks as old as the city, and was allegedly built for Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794. A must order: Pimm's Cup or Bourbon Milk Punch.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop - built in the early 1700's, it's the oldest bar in the country. You'll feel like you've stepped into an authentic pirate watering hole.
Cafe Du Monde - you have to go for the beignets. Just don't go during the day when the line is miserably long. The best time to go is after midnight (it's open 24 hours), especially when you've had a few drinks.
Gold Mine Saloon - if you like to dance to old school hip-hop, pop, and everything in between, then this is your kind of place. I've never had a bad time here. Bring some cash with you as they charge cover on some nights.
St. Roch Market - the sister food hall to Auction House Market, but a little more off the beaten path. It's in a beautifully renovated building with columns lining the interior and a vaulted ceiling. Make a pit stop for lunch and you'll be glad you did.
Bacchanal Wine - kind of like a wine house party with a bunch of strangers. After selecting a bottle of wine, wait in line to place your food order, then head to the back patio to snag a table and enjoy the live music. Take an Uber as it's located in the Bywater neighborhood and there's not much else around.
With plenty of things to do, sights to see, and food to eat in N'awlins, hopefully this list helps you experience some of the highlights. If you haven't thought about New Orleans as a destination, what are you waiting for?!? As always, I'd love to hear about your own adventure.